In the past four years, the District Attorney’s office and the office of the Public Defender have both faced fairly significant cuts. These cuts have numerous effects on those offices directly and the administration of justice in the area, making what the Sacramento Bee calls “a vastly different criminal justice system” in the county.
County supervisors approved the latest budget just last week in which they had to “shave” about $90 million in costs. District Attorney Jan Scully’s office will only have enough money to pay about half of the attorneys she had in 2008 and Public Defender Paulino Duran will also lose significant funding.
While those supervisors say their top priority is law enforcement, finding an additional $8.5 million in other areas to transfer to the sheriff’s department, district attorney’s office, and probation. But D.A. Scully isn’t convinced. While it isn’t completely clear how she’ll handle the cuts, she could have to cut 42 attorneys from staff to make up the shortfall.
Four years ago the DA’s office operated with 148 attorneys. If she elects to save the money by cutting attorneys, it would leave her with only 79.
The office has responded that in order to make up for the cuts they will have to be more selective about which cases to prosecute. They’ve changed what offenses take priority over the last several years to accommodate the lack of funds and they’ve complete stopped prosecuting some misdemeanor drug and theft charges.
What’s interesting is that crime across the country is falling but case filings in Sacramento county have remained consistent. Perhaps that’s a sign that more selective prosecution is the answer regardless of funding issues.
While there’s no way the DA’s office would stop prosecuting the most serious and violent offenses, some would like to think these cuts will put the public at risk. John Myers, an actual professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law said, “Citizens are going to be victimized, citizens are going to be killed, because of these budget cuts.”
But the District Attorney isn’t the only one facing cuts, so are the public defenders. Attorneys there have seen their ranks drop from 160 to 144 since 2008. When their numbers drop, they have to outsource cases to Contract Criminal Defenders, another group that’s seen similar cuts.
If arrests remain at the same rate, there’s little doubt the courts will become clogged. Selective prosecution, at this juncture, seems like the most productive way to handle the lack of funding and that’s likely what will happen.
If you are charged with a crime or even if you receive a ticket and want to contest the charges, get the help of a local California defense attorney.